by Constantine von Hoffman

Game Maker Creates App That Lets Users Insult, Threaten Facebook Friends

Dec 05, 20124 mins

An online game maker created an app that let people insult their Facebook Friends and place "virtual hits" on them. The company promptly pulled the app, but did not apologize, saying only that the effort was "wide of the mark."

Lord knows there is a lot of bad marketing out there today, but this is criminally stupid. In an effort to promote a game called Hitman, Square Enix actually encouraged players to threaten their friends with death on Facebook. 

Cyberstalking—it’s comedy gold.

Earlier this week the company sent an email to people it thought might want to play the game with a subject line reading: “SQUARE ENIX WANTS YOU TO PUT A HIT ON YOUR FRIENDS!” A link in the message led to a site that listed several reasons for wanting to threaten to kill someone.

For women these included:

  • Awful make-up;
  • Ginger hair;
  • Annoying laugh;
  • Strange odor;
  • Big ears;
  • Muffin top;
  • Hairy legs;
  • Small breasts.

For men you could choose between everything from small penis to body weight. If these characteristics weren’t enough to get you to threaten murder, you could then add a number of reasons like “she’s cheating on her partner.” The threats could then be sent to someone you picked from your Facebook soon-to-not-be-Friend list.

For some reason, before the day was out, this caused an uproar among people who think, and the company pulled the campaign. It also issued a fake apology:

“Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends. Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends. We were wide of the mark with the app and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we’ve now done. We’re sorry for any offence caused by this.”

Instead of saying, “We were idiots and we apologize,” they went with the euphemistic “We were wide of the mark” and “Sorry for any offence caused by this.” Way to not take responsibility for your actions, dudes!

Sadly, Square Enix is following in a long and ignominious tradition of threatening people in an attempt to sell things.

In New Zealand, Ubisoft, maker of the video game “Splinter Cell Evolution,” sent an actor with a fake gun to impress patrons at a bar in Auckland. On April 16, 2010, people sitting outside the Degree bar dived behind tables as a character from the game threatened them with a plastic gun. The bar’s manager later said, “This guy with bandages on his hands pointed a gun at customers sitting outside. They were pretty terrified.” The police wound up drawing real guns on the actor and did not, as far as we know, buy any copies of the game.

This level of brilliance is hardly limited to video game makers. In 2009, Toyota launched an online ad campaign as part of which people who “opted-in” got emails from a fictitious man named “Sebastian Bowler.” Mr. Bowler was supposed to be on the run from the law, and his emails told recipients he was coming over to hide from the police. Here’s the kicker: Participants were entered into the event by people who wanted to set up friends to be “punked.” One Los Angeles woman later filed suit against the company for emotional distress caused by the fake stalking.

That may seem like another example of our overly litigious society but consider this: To heighten the realism, the woman even received a bill for damage the fictitious man supposedly had caused at a hotel. “Amber, ran into a little problem at the hotel,” a note with the invoice stated. “After I’m done visiting you, I’m going to go back and sort out that front-desk Muppet.” Toyota’s defense? People had opted-in to participate in the marketing stunt. Said opt-in was buried in an emailed “personality test” that contained a link to a web page that ostensibly explained what was going to happen. A lawyer for the woman rightly called the explanatory note “indecipherable.”